Kiss ‘Em Goodbye: Laffey, Proctor, Valdes

The Yankees announced today that Scott Proctor, Raul Valdes, and Aaron Laffey have all been outrighted off the 40-man roster. Proctor and Valdes elected free agency rather than accept the assignment to the minors while Laffey was claimed off waivers by the Royals. The trio combined for 5.40 ERA in 28.1 IP late in the year, but that’s almost entirely due to Proctor.

The moves clear three 40-man spots, but as Joe explained earlier, there’s seven players due to come off the 60-day DL after the season.

What Went Right: Post-DL Derek Jeter

Over the next few weeks, we’re going to look back at what went right, what went wrong, and what went as expected during the 2011 campaign.

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Earlier today we looked at the first half of Derek Jeter’s season, when he posted a measly .295 wOBA through the Yankees first 64 games before suffered a Grade I calf strain running out a fly ball. The injury was originally supposed to keep the Cap’n out for ten days, but it ended up shelving him for three weeks and 20 team games. Jeter rehabbed in Tampa and played in two minor league rehab games with Double-A Trenton before returning to the lineup on Independence Day.

Although that first game back against the Indians (the same team he hurt himself against) went poorly (0-for-4), the difference was noticeable the very next day. Jeter went 2-for-6 with a booming double the other way, and several of the outs were very hard hit line drives a well. Another double followed the next day. And then another the next game. And then came the fourth straight game with a double. In his sixth game back, Jeter took David Price deep for his 3,000th career hit, a no-doubt shot pulled to left. That was part of a 5-for-5 day. The time off seemed to do wonders, but it wasn’t just rest.

“Staying back,” said Jeter when asked what the difference was before and after the DL trip. “Stay back better and obviously you’re going to drive balls more. That’s what I’ve been doing since I’ve been back, so I just want it to continue. You can get a lot more work in when you don’t have to play games, so I sort of look at it as a blessing in disguise, I hope. I’ve felt good since I’ve been back.”

The results were stunning. Jeter was hitting the ball with authority after getting healthy, especially to the pull side, and the result was a .346/.393/.472 batting line in his first 38 games back. That’s not far off from the .334/.406/.465 batting line he posted during his MVP-caliber 2009 season. A sixth inning single against the Athletics on August 25th raised Jeter’s batting average to .300683, the first time he’d been over .300 since May 8th of last season, a span of 157 team games.

From the day he returned to the lineup through the end of the season, Jeter hit a remarkable .331/.384/.447 (.367 wOBA) in 314 plate appearances. His ground ball rate went from a 2010-esque 65.9% before the injury to 58.9% after, which is in line with the 57.6% grounder rate he posted from 2008-2009. The strong finished raised Derek’s overall season line to a very respectable .297/.355/.388, a .332 wOBA that ranked ninth among shortstops.

Whenever a player improves their performance after coming back from a DL stint, the vast majority of the time it’s just a matter of getting healthy. In Jeter’s case though, it was about taking advantage of the time off to work on some mechanical fixes, namely staying back on the ball so he can drive it with authority. Post-DL Derek Jeter was the Derek Jeter we’ve watched for the last 15 years, a dynamic force atop the order that hit for average, got on base, and would sneak up on pitchers with some power.

Press Conference Roundup: CC, Hughes, A-Rod, Teixeira, Posada, More

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Joe Girardi held his annual end-of-season press conference at Yankee Stadium this afternoon, and unlike last year, there wasn’t any significant news to be broken. No coaches were fired, no secret injuries were unveiled, no talk about contracts for legacy players. The overwhelming theme was the idea of “clutch” and “clutch players,” just every other question was about that (seriously). I thought Girardi handled that well, saying that a lot of times it’s a function of luck, especially in a short series when things don’t have a chance to even out.

Anyway, the press conference was broadcast on YES, and had I know sooner, I probably would have live-blogged it. That’s my bad. Here’s a recap of the important stuff…

Starting Rotation

  • “He’s extremely important to our rotation, we rely on him heavily,” said Girardi when asked about CC Sabathia‘s opt-out clause. “I can’t imagine what it would be like without him. I don’t want to imagine what it would be like without him.” Girardi did acknowledge that Sabathia gained a few pounds during the course of the season, but he didn’t think it affected his performance.
  • On A.J. Burnett: “He’s a work in progress … lost a mile or two [off his fastball] … the adjust he made from August to September really helped him. I think we can count on him, and we’re going to need him.”
  • On Phil Hughes: “We consider him a starter, we do, but he’s got to get back to the form he had in 2010 to continue to stay in our rotation. He’s gotta stay healthy, that’s the other thing.” When asked about Hughes’ conditioning, Girardi said the right-hander is “in shape to do the job” and is happy with everyone’s work ethic.
  • “I would assume that they would both be part of our rotation,” said Girardi, referring to Hughes and Ivan Nova. “Nothing in life is every given to you, you have to earn it.”
  • On rotation depth: “[Hector Noesi]’s a guy that can start to challenge [for a starting spot].” Girardi mentioned D.J. Mitchell, David Phelps, Adam Warren, Manny Banuelos, and Dellin Betances by name as players that could push for a rotation spot at some point next year, but Noesi was the first one out of his mouth.
  • “The one need we’re going to have to address again is our rotation,” added the skipper. “It starts with CC, go from there.” When asked about adding a high-end starter even if Sabathia returns, Girardi replied: “That’s something that I’m sure we’ll look at doing.”

The Lineup

  • Girardi said all possibilities will be considered with the lineup, including Brett Gardner at leadoff. “Are you going to add? If we add someone, how do they fit in the lineup?” The batting order is something they’ll address in Spring Training.
  • “[Alex Rodriguez] is someone we need to keep healthy, first and foremost,” said the skipper. “If he plays 145-150 games, I think he’ll be much more productive.” The meniscus tear and sprained thumb were freak injuries more than anything, and Girardi said A-Rod was not more hurt than he led on down the stretch. “My expectation is he’ll be our third baseman, he might DH a little bit.”
  • On Mark Teixeira: “Some of it is luck. I think he made more contact this year than he did in the past.  Using the whole field will become important … so they can’t shift. He made a small adjustment on his openness to cut down on [balls hit into the shift] … I think he can give us more than that … I believe all of our guys can give us more. Tex, I don’t believe he’s a .240 hitter, no I don’t believe that.”
  • “Our guys will try to make adjustments to get their numbers back to where they’re used to having them,” added Girardi when asked about players who had down years.
  • On Jesus Montero: “It’s something that we will look at in Spring Training, heavily. I can’t tell you exactly what the makeup of our team will be behind the plate. Montero’s a guy that can probably do a lot of different things, DH some, catch some, gotta see the makeup of our team. I was very pleased with his at-bats in the month of September. Lot of upside there.”
  • “We expect him to have another good year and be productive for us,” said Girardi when asked about Derek Jeter. “When you’re an older player, people are always going to wonder.”
  • When asked about being too dependent on homers: “I think our offense became a little more diversified this year with the speed we had. [The homers are] part of who were are, part of the age we live in … from a speed standpoint, we can do a lot more things, we can do a lot more things this year than in years previous.”

Miscellaneous

  • “I can’t tell you exactly what’s going to happen with [Jorge Posada], but whenever you do say goodbye to someone, it’s difficult,” said Girardi. “When a player leaves a new player comes in, and I’m not saying that’s going to happen … if this is it, we’re going to miss him. There’s no doubt about it, we’re going to miss the intensity he brings.”
  • On the coaching staff: “The first guy that has to get done is Brian Cashman. I’m happy with my coaches, but that’s something I’ll talk about with Brian when the time comes.” Doesn’t seem like there will be any changes here.
  • On players pressing, in general: “I think you can do things to try and help players, but part of it has to come from within, part of it has to come from experience. It’s something we continually work on from a physical and mental standpoint.”
  • “Add a corner [infield] guy? Possibly. I’m sure we’ll look at that,” said Girardi, who expressed confidence in Eduardo Nunez being able to fill in all around the infield. “[Nunez] might even play more positions next year.”
  • Girardi joked that he could have “batted Gardy fourth and stacked my lefties” because Gardner was hitting so well in the postseason. The primary reason they used the same lineup in each game of the ALDS was that they faced four right-handed starters. If they faced a lefty, Girardi said the lineup would have looked very different.
  • “We didn’t reach out goal, that’s the bottom line,” said Girardi when asked if the season was a failure. “Bottom line is we didn’t get it done, and it starts with me.”

Second order of business: 40-man roster crunch

Hopefully Brian Cashman was just playing coy when he told the Daily News’s Mark Feinsand that he and the Steinbrenners “haven’t had any talks whatsoever” about a new contract. While a deal seems inevitable, the Yankees do have a few pressing matters they must attend to. But before they can get to player options and CC Sabathia‘s opt out, they have to address one major issue: the 40-man roster.

Plagued by injuries this year, the Yankees made good use of the 60-day disabled list. For the uninitiated, a player on the 60-day DL does not occupy a spot on the 40-man roster. After the season ends, however, the disabled list goes away and those players must return to the 40-man roster. The Yankees currently have seven players on the 60-day DL.

In most years even seven players on the 60-day DL wouldn’t cause many problems. Departing free agents come off the roster at the same time that 60-day players return, so the roster math usually works itself out. But the Yankees have surprisingly few departing free agents this off-season: Jorge Posada, Sergio Mitre, Andruw Jones, Eric Chavez, Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon, Damaso Marte, and Luis Ayala*. Combine that with the players the Yankees must protect from the Rule 5 draft and it can create a tough situation.

*Scott Proctor is right on the edge of his six years’ service time. I’m not sure if he spent enough pre-September time in the bigs to qualify. But even if he doesn’t, the Yanks aren’t going to carry him through the winter, so we can consider him off. There’s also the matter of CC’s opt-out, but at this point even if he does come off the roster I’ll assume they’ll keep a seat warm for him.

A quick count reveals an even 40 men on the roster once the season ends, assuming Proctor’s departure. Thankfully, the Yankees already added two potential Rule 5 candidates to the roster: Austin Romine and George Kontos. That saves them a bit of trouble at year’s end. But they still need to add David Phelps, and they might want to add D.J. Mitchell, since a bottom-feeding team would almost certainly take him in the Rule 5 draft. That puts the Yankees over the limit.

There are a few expendables on the roster. Aaron Laffey and Raul Valdes are both non-tender candidates, though if the Yankees did like Valdes in September perhaps they want to keep him around. Laffey, however, is as good as gone. Reegie Corona is almost certainly a goner; his presence on the 40-man roster never really made much sense. Then there’s Colin Curtis and Justin Maxwell. They’re both expendable, and Maxwell is out of options. Chances are one of them could go as well.

The Yankees might have to find more room, too. They have spots in the starting rotation and bench that they’re not likely to fill from within. And, if reports are true, they could make room for another lefty reliever as well. Those moves create an even greater crunch on an overcrowded 40-man roster.

The Yankees, being professionals, will surely figure out who goes where in terms of the 40-man roster. In fact, they probably have a tentative plan already in place — it’s not as though they didn’t see this coming. For us, from the outside, it’s a strange picture. We know the Yankees need spots, but there don’t appear to be too many spots available. Observing how Cashman manipulates the 40-man could be one under the radar aspect of this off-season.

What Went Wrong: Pre-DL Derek Jeter

Over the next few weeks, we’re going to look back at what went right, what went wrong, and what went as expected during the 2011 campaign.

(AP Photo/LM Otero)

There’s no denying that 2010 was a down season for Derek Jeter. Just one year removed from a .334/.406/.465 batting line (.390 wOBA) during the Yankees run to the World Series, the Cap’n hit a punchless .270/.340/.370 (.320 wOBA) last season. His ground ball rate (65.7%) was the highest by a non-Luis Castillo hitter since the data started being recorded in 2002, and most of those grounders were weak, as you know. At 36-years-old, it was fair to wonder if this was the beginning of the end of one of the greatest Yankees ever, and early this season, it certainly looked like it was.

Jeter picked up just two hits through the team’s first four games, and just two extra-base hits (both doubles) through the season’s first month. His ground ball rate sat at a sky high 72.3% though April, explaining the utter lack of power. And yet, because he’s Derek Jeter, he remained atop the lineup despite a paltry .303 OBP in his first 211 plate appearances, essentially the first third of the season.

Every once in a while there would be a flash of the old Jeter, like the four-hit game against the Orioles on April 24th or the two-homer game against the Rangers on May 8th, but he was never able to build on it. That two-homer game in Texas was followed by a .247/.321/.301 batting line through the end of the month, and yet he continued to lead off. Joe Girardi stood by the Captain through it all, saying they would wait 150 at-bats, 250 at-bats, 350 at-bats, whatever it took until Jeter was right. Problem was, those arbitrary at-bat milestones kept passing by without improvement.

On the morning of June 13th, Derek was hitting .259/.324/.324 through 64 team games. The Yankees had one of the best offenses in baseball and were scoring boatloads of runs in spite of his presence as leadoff hitter, not because of it. That night, Jeter tapped a harmless fly ball to right to lead off the fifth inning in a game against the Indians, and appeared to have a little hitch in his step as he ran down to first. Eduardo Nunez took over at shortstop in the next half inning, indicating that the Cap’n did have some kind of physical problem.

The injury was announced as a sore right calf after the game, and an MRI confirmed a Grade I calf strain. The Yankees waited a day before placing Jeter on the disabled list, a move he strongly opposed. It’s not a big deal for the team to play a man short he said, but the team couldn’t afford to play short-handed with the NL leg of interleague play coming up. An injury that was supposed to take ten days to heal wound up taking three weeks.

At the time of the injury, Jeter was hitting a lowly .260/.324/.324, a well-below-average .295 wOBA. For a defensive whiz, that would be tolerable production at short. Derek is no defensive whiz though, and his age made his already shaky defense play even worse. The Yankees had one of the worst regulars in baseball not just suiting up for them every night, but also getting more plate appearances than everyone else on the team while playing a key position. In a way, the injury was a relief, almost like it put him (and us) out of his (and our) misery, at least temporarily. A little later today we’ll look at the other side of the Jeter coin, his resurgence following his return from the disabled list, but for now there’s no way around admitting that pre-injury Jeter went very, very wrong.

Rooting For The Enemy

I would have pimped it too. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

It’s such a weird time for me whenever the Yankees get eliminated from the postseason. There’s still meaningful baseball to watch and enjoy, but I don’t have a rooting interest. The Yankees are done, what do I care who wins? I don’t think I’m alone when I say this. At least in past years, I could root for whoever was playing the Red Sox in any given round. Can’t do that this year, but that’s okay because The Collapse was extremely enjoyable in its own way.

I’ve said this once or twice before, but at the moment I’m pulling for the Brewers. Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder are what I dream Robinson Cano and Jesus Montero will someday be for the Yankees, and they’re extremely fun to watch. Hard not to enjoy a  pitching staff with Zack Greinke, Yovani Gallardo, and former Yankees farmhand John Axford as well. The only thing not to like about them is Francisco Rodriguez, but that’s neither here nor there. Milwaukee seems to be the fun, trendy team this postseason, so I’ll throw them some love this month. The Cardinals? Meh. It was a blast watching them beat the Phillies, though they’re generally tough to enjoy because Tony LaRussa can’t help himself when he has a chance to manage.

The Rangers and Tigers is an odd series for me. I dislike Detroit for beating the Yankees in the ALDS, but I also dislike Texas for beating the Yankees in last year’s ALCS. There is a no-win series for me, I want both teams to lose because they’ve knocked the Yankees out of the postseason the last two years. I can’t bring myself to root for the enemy, but that hasn’t stopped me from enjoying the games. All I know is that come next week, I’ll steadfastly be in the corner of the NL representative in the World Series. That’s a given.

The fans in Texas started chanting “Yankees Suck!” after Nelson Cruz’s walk-off grand slam Monday night, a nice little reminder that the Yankees are never really an afterthought. One of the biggest wins in franchise history, and the fans couldn’t help but think of the Yankees. It’s wonderful. I can’t bring myself to root for a team that knocked the Yanks out of the playoffs in recent years, but I’ve managed to find a way to enjoy October without them. That “Yankees Suck!” chant made my night.

Open Thread: Tinyballs

Another day, another Moneyball parody. This one’s actually kinda true though, even though the time frames don’t line up exactly. In case you missed it last week, here’s the Yankees parody.

Anyway, this is your open thread for the night. The Tigers and Rangers are finishing up their ALCS game on FOX, then the Brewers and Cardinals resume their NLCS matchup on TBS at 8pm ET. The Monday Night Football game is the Bears at the Lions (8:20pm ET on ESPN), which sounds just awful. You all know what to do by now, so have at it.

(h/t Calcaterra)